If two wrongs can’t make a right, it will be interesting to see how the two chambers of North Carolina’s legislature come up with a compromise plan that gives state teachers a pay raise next year.
Separately, both the state House and Senate have passed adjusted budget plans for next year that award teachers raises. The problem is that both teacher-raise plans stink. And for different reasons.
The Senate plan, part of the $21 billion budget the chamber passed two weeks ago, awards teachers 11 percent raises — but only if they voluntarily give up their right to career status, more commonly known as tenure. The raises would be paid for, provided any teachers agree to give up tenure, through spending cuts in other areas of K-12 education. There’s no money in the Senate plan, for example, for 7,400 teacher assistant positions in the second and third grades. Some 70 school nursing positions paid for with state funds also would be eliminated.
The House plan, also part of a $21 billion budget, awards teachers smaller average raises — 5 percent — and doesn’t require them to give up their tenure rights. The House plan also doesn’t cut teacher assistant positions or other areas of K-12 funding to pay for the salary hikes. But the plan’s method of payment is just as nefarious as the Senate’s approach — if not more so.
Relying on what seems more like voodoo economics, the House plans to raise most of the $150 million it needs for teacher raises by encouraging people to gamble even more of their hard-earned money away on North Carolina’s lottery.
Officials at the N.C. Education Lottery say they can generate $106 million more in lottery sales if they’re able to up their spending on advertising from 1 percent of sales to 2 percent of sales. Under current law, advertising the lottery is capped at 1 percent of sales. The budget plan approved by the House on Friday, however, would raise the cap to 2 percent, allowing the lottery to spend $34 million next year encouraging more people to play more often.
There are a number of things wrong with the proposal, not the least of which are its rank hypocrisy and cynicism. Republican lawmakers who now control the House voted overwhelmingly against the lottery when Democrats, who were then in charge, narrowly got it approved and signed into law in 2005 by then Gov. Mike Easley, also a Democrat. They’ve opposed the lottery ever since, usually on religious grounds, for its reliance on gambling to pay for educational needs.
Republicans don’t seem to have changed their values much since taking control of the House and Senate in 2010 — most still probably oppose the lottery. But the value they seem to have lost, or at least expediently set aside, is one requiring government to follow conservative principles when setting budgets and making spending decisions. Since when did it become conservative to gamble on a revenue source that’s unknown today to pay for something tomorrow?
Of course the biggest problem with using increased lottery sales to pay for teacher raises is its strategy of soaking the poor. Instead of paying for teacher raises through an adjustment of the big tax cuts lawmakers approved last year for the state’s wealthy, the state House budget wants low-income people to pay the freight. A 2012 N.C. Policy Watch report in fact showed the counties with the highest poverty rates also have the biggest numbers of lottery players. So the message is clear: If teachers want a raise, they either need to play the lottery more themselves or encourage their students to get their parents to play more.
Both ideas — the Senate’s give-us-your-tenure-and-we’ll-give-you-a-raise and the House’s you-want-a-raise?-Play-the-lottery-more — are irresponsible responses to a critical problem in North Carolina: increasingly poor teacher morale. State lawmakers have gone after public education with a vengeance since Republicans took complete control in Raleigh two years ago. Their efforts, which include funding private school vouchers and attempting to end teacher tenure, have sent a clear signal that the welfare of public school teachers is secondary to achieving ideological goals. The fact that teachers weren’t awarded a raise last year, and can only get one next year if the House or Senate can get the other to agree to the other’s gimmick, shows teachers just aren’t really that important in Raleigh.
One almost believes Republican lawmakers have already decided that they don’t have to actually come through with promised raises for teachers to win re-election in November. They apparently believe they can look teachers in the eye and say, “We tried, but just couldn’t make it work,” and that they’ll be believed. That seems like a pretty bad gamble to us.